Scratching the Surface 2 (in the Price Tag). $100 Off.

Subject: General Tech, Systems, Mobile | August 26, 2014 - 09:10 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, surface, Surface 2

While the Surface Pro 3 has just been released, the latest Windows RT version is still the Surface 2. It is powered by Tegra 4 and contains 2GB of RAM. It also cannot run anything, unless it comes from Windows Store, it is a Windows Update, or it is a website that runs in Internet Explorer 11. If what you are looking for is Microsoft Office 2013 RT (included), Netflix, Halo: Spartan Assault, and so forth, then all Surface 2 models are currently reduced in price by $100 at the Microsoft Store.

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Of course, the launch of the Surface Pro 3 without a corresponding Surface 3 suggests that this sale is a way to clear up-to year-old stock for a product refresh. In January, there were rumors circulating that a Surface 3 would appear with a Tegra K1 processor. Of course, with the first two RT-based Surface tablets containing Tegra SoCs, that could just be pattern recognition (rather than concrete information). Other rumors claim that Microsoft is interested in Qualcomm's chips, if only for a "mini" variant.

Either way, you can get a Tegra 4-powered tablet for $349 USD (32 GB), $449 USD (64 GB), or $579 USD (64 GB with LTE from AT&T). Previously, they were $449, $549, and $679, respectively.

The mysterious September Windows release

Subject: General Tech | August 26, 2014 - 02:10 PM |
Tagged: windows, microsoft, threshold, win9

Something new will be announced by Microsoft in September but no one seems to know exactly what Threshold is.  It could be a work in progress version of Windows 9: The Button's Return, but then again it could be something completely different.  The rumours and speculation are rampant, as the current 982X build carries the name "Windows Technical Preview", similar to what Win8 was labelled before release but not specific enough to discourage enthusiasts from theorizing that it could be something else.  Also adding to the fuel is a new feature in Windows Update which will allow in place upgrades of your build of Windows, perhaps similar to the Windows Vista to 7 upgrade which caused much confusion.  You can follow the links from Slashdot to get your fill of the current guesses or wait until September 30th when Microsoft finally spills the beans.

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"Nobody seems to know for sure whether 'Threshold' and 'Windows 9' will be one and the same or separate operating systems, reports Woody Leonhard in his roundup of insights on Microsoft's forthcoming OS plans, expected September 30. 'Many people think the terms are synonymous, but longtime Chinese leaker Faikee continues to maintain that they are two separate products, possibly headed in different directions.

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Source: Slashdot

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Docking Station Now Available for $200

Subject: General Tech | August 21, 2014 - 11:12 PM |
Tagged: tablet, Surface Pro 3, peripherals, microsoft, docking station, dock

Earlier this year, Microsoft took the wraps off of its latest Surface tablet: the Surface Pro 3. The new tablet comes with several peripherals including a keyboard, stylus, and a docking station that was recently made available for purchase from the Microsoft Store for $199.99.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Docking Station.jpg

The docking station measures 12.9" x 3.8" x 4.4" and weighs 1.43 pounds. It acts as a stand for the Surface tablet and adds a number of full sized ports. Specifically, the dock includes the following I/O options.

  • 3 x USB 3.0
  • 2 x USB 2.0
  • 1 x Gigabit Ethernet
  • 1 x Mini DisplayPort
  • 1 x 3.5mm audio jack

The docking station also has a security lock slot and power input port. Speaking of power, it is driven by a 48W power supply which Microsoft says provides ample power for charging the Surface Pro 3 and any USB attached devices.

With the dock in play, the Surface Pro 3 becomes much more business and productivity focused and may well replace desktops in some shops as supporting one device per worker should be bother easier and cheaper than supplying and supporting a desktop and laptop (and possibly a tablet). Users can attach up to two external displays by utilizing the daisy chaining feature and the single mini DisplayPort output. In total, users will have access to six USB ports (five on the dock and one available on the tablet itself).

The Surface Pro 3 Docking Station is available now from the Microsoft Store and retailers with a MSRP of $199.99.

The price does seem a bit steep, but is in line with other Surface accessories and is not likely to get much cheaper any time soon. Will you be picking up a dock for your Surface?

Source: Microsoft

A Windows 9 teaser for the end of September

Subject: General Tech | August 21, 2014 - 01:07 PM |
Tagged: win9, microsoft

Windows 8.1 has not quite been kicked to the curb yet but it has been told to start packing its bags and to look for a job.  On September 30th the rumour is that we will see a teaser of a work in progress version of the new OS.  The build is nowhere near complete and The Register expects changes from the reveal at the BUILD Conference and even more changes before the RTM version arrives.  We can be fairly certain of a less charming desktop which should have something resembling the familiar Start button, although it is quite likely to be somewhat different from the previous incarnations.  Win 8.1 will continue to receive small updates as opposed to a Service Pack, hopefully with less BSoD's than the last batch produced.

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"MICROSOFT WILL REPORTEDLY REVEAL the successor to its Windows 8 operating system on 30 September."

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Source: The Inquirer

The third incarnation of Microsoft's Pro Tablet Surfaces

Subject: Mobile | August 15, 2014 - 02:22 PM |
Tagged: Surface Pro 3, microsoft

With a 12" 2160x1440 resolution screen, a 4th generation Core i3, i5 or i7 and a full version of Win 8.1 the new Surface Pro 3 is the best tablet offered by Microsoft so far.  Overall it is thinner but 1.5" larger than the Pro 3 with better resolution with a battery that should last about 8 hours while you are working, slightly longer when just browsing.  The Surface Pen is a nice addition to the dock and stand we have become familiar with.  Overall The Inquirer was fairly impressed with Microsoft's new offering, apart from the pricing which is rather prohibitive even before accessorizing.

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"THE SURFACE PRO 3 tablet brings some of the biggest and most welcome changes seen in the Surface tablet line yet, with a bigger and better 12in HD screen, a much thinner case and an improved keyboard and kickstand, meaning its never lived more up to its motto of "the tablet that can replace your laptop."

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Source: The Inquirer

Intel and Microsoft Show DirectX 12 Demo and Benchmark

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Processors, Mobile, Shows and Expos | August 13, 2014 - 09:55 PM |
Tagged: siggraph 2014, Siggraph, microsoft, Intel, DirectX 12, directx 11, DirectX

Along with GDC Europe and Gamescom, Siggraph 2014 is going on in Vancouver, BC. At it, Intel had a DirectX 12 demo at their booth. This scene, containing 50,000 asteroids, each in its own draw call, was developed on both Direct3D 11 and Direct3D 12 code paths and could apparently be switched while the demo is running. Intel claims to have measured both power as well as frame rate.

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Variable power to hit a desired frame rate, DX11 and DX12.

The test system is a Surface Pro 3 with an Intel HD 4400 GPU. Doing a bit of digging, this would make it the i5-based Surface Pro 3. Removing another shovel-load of mystery, this would be the Intel Core i5-4300U with two cores, four threads, 1.9 GHz base clock, up-to 2.9 GHz turbo clock, 3MB of cache, and (of course) based on the Haswell architecture.

While not top-of-the-line, it is also not bottom-of-the-barrel. It is a respectable CPU.

Intel's demo on this processor shows a significant power reduction in the CPU, and even a slight decrease in GPU power, for the same target frame rate. If power was not throttled, Intel's demo goes from 19 FPS all the way up to a playable 33 FPS.

Intel will discuss more during a video interview, tomorrow (Thursday) at 5pm EDT.

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Maximum power in DirectX 11 mode.

For my contribution to the story, I would like to address the first comment on the MSDN article. It claims that this is just an "ideal scenario" of a scene that is bottlenecked by draw calls. The thing is: that is the point. Sure, a game developer could optimize the scene to (maybe) instance objects together, and so forth, but that is unnecessary work. Why should programmers, or worse, artists, need to spend so much of their time developing art so that it could be batch together into fewer, bigger commands? Would it not be much easier, and all-around better, if the content could be developed as it most naturally comes together?

That, of course, depends on how much performance improvement we will see from DirectX 12, compared to theoretical max efficiency. If pushing two workloads through a DX12 GPU takes about the same time as pushing one, double-sized workload, then it allows developers to, literally, perform whatever solution is most direct.

intel-dx12-unlockedFPS-2.jpg

Maximum power when switching to DirectX 12 mode.

If, on the other hand, pushing two workloads is 1000x slower than pushing a single, double-sized one, but DirectX 11 was 10,000x slower, then it could be less relevant because developers will still need to do their tricks in those situations. The closer it gets, the fewer occasions that strict optimization is necessary.

If there are any DirectX 11 game developers, artists, and producers out there, we would like to hear from you. How much would a (let's say) 90% reduction in draw call latency (which is around what Mantle claims) give you, in terms of fewer required optimizations? Can you afford to solve problems "the naive way" now? Some of the time? Most of the time? Would it still be worth it to do things like object instancing and fewer, larger materials and shaders? How often?

If you build it, they still might not come

Subject: General Tech | August 1, 2014 - 01:48 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, Windows 8.1, market share

More bad news for Microsoft as their newest OS continues to lose market share to the previous version.  This month sees the total share drop slightly to 12.48% while Windows 7 grew a similar amount and now represents 51.22% of the market. The recently deceased WinXP holds a 24.82% share, also much to Microsoft's dismay.  As for Apple and Linux, they hold 6.64% and 1.68% respectively.  The numbers that The Inquirer posted came from Net Applications and are comprised of all unique visitors to our network sites; they track browser and OS shares as well as other data points via this methodology.

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"MICROSOFT HAS REASON to cringe again this month as the July figures from Net Applications reveal that there has been a further drop in the use of Windows 8.x"

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Source: The Inquirer

The new netbook?

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | July 24, 2014 - 02:32 PM |
Tagged: Intel, microsoft, netbook, Bay Trail

According to DigiTimes we may see a resurgence of netbooks, this time powered by Bay Trail which will make them far more usable than the original generation.  There are three postulated tiers, the $200-250 range of 10.1-15.6" models and $250-400 or $400-600 in 11.6-17.3" which will make them larger in size than the original generation which failed to attract many consumers.  They are currently scheduled to ship with Bay Trail-M with future models likely to have Braswell inside in a mix of transformer style 2 in 1's with touchscreens and more traditional laptop designs.  You can expect to see a maximum thickness of 25mm and a mix of HDD and SSD storage on these and we can only hope that the estimated pricing is more accurate than the pricing on Ultrabooks turned out to be.

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"For the US$199-249 notebooks, Intel and Microsoft's specification preferences are 10.1- to 15.6-inch clamshell non-touchscreen models using Intel's Bay Trail-M series processors or upcoming Braswell-based processors, which are set to release in the second quarter of 2015."

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Source: DigiTimes

Metro could soon be retro; Windows 8.1's final patch

Subject: General Tech | July 21, 2014 - 02:12 PM |
Tagged: win 8.1, microsoft

Windows 8 and 8.1, non-update 1 version, are already essentially EoL with only limited support offered those rare businesses which deployed the new version of Windows.  If the rumours that The Inquirer have been hearing are correct then Service Pack Update 2 will be arrive on August 12th and herald the end of Windows 8.1 updates a mere two years after release.  Win 8.1 U2 will probably be with us for a while, the release of Win 9 is rumoured to be about 12 months away still and the Metro version is likely to appear on mobile devices for a while now.  It is extremely unlikely that the Start Menu will be included in this update but for those who are running Win 8.1 U1 it is worth considering turning off Automatic Updates if you are worried about encountering boot issues similar to what happened during the initial push of 8.1 U1. 

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"MICROSOFT WILL RELEASE the second and final update for Windows 8.1 as part of Patch Tuesday in August, rumours have claimed."

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Source: The Inquirer

An interesting day to be a mobile Windows 8 user

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | July 16, 2014 - 01:30 PM |
Tagged: win8 mobile, win 8.1, nokia, lumia, skype, microsoft, cyan

If you own a Nokia Lumia phone which runs Win 8.1 then there is an update with quite a few interesting features available. US customers will see a Cortana update while all users will gain the ability to search their phone with Bing, an IE11 update, encrypted S/MIME and improved VPN support.  There are quite a few app updates and users of the 1520 and Icon get Nokia Rich Recording and Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 which improves both audio and video options.  Check out Cyan at The Register but don't stop there because according to The Inquirer you will no longer need to be a Premium Skype member to make group calls from your mobile device as it is now a free feature for all.

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"Nokia is rolling out Windows Phone 8.1 as an over-the-air update that comes bundled with "Cyan," a special feature package that's exclusive to Lumia devices."

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Source: The Register